By Rekha Basu on Des Moines Register
Talk about adding insult to injury. Sen. Charles Grassley’s suggestion that taxpayers who don’t have millions of dollars to pass on to their survivors have wasted their money on frivolous spending is so loaded with elitist presumptions that it shows just how out of touch the senator is.
He told reporters last week that doing away with the estate tax, which is part of a massive federal tax reform bill before Congress, would recognize “the people that are investing as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”
He did little better trying to walk back his statements, by saying his point was “that the government shouldn’t seize the fruits of someone’s lifetime of labor after they die,” and that a tax code shouldn’t “penalize frugality, saving and investment.”
Since the remarks were published, some have called for Grassley’s resignation while others are fighting back with more creative forms of protest. One is former Iowan Molly Brown Burks, formerly Molly Johnson of Des Moines. Now retired from a hospital office coordinator job and fighting a resurgence of an 8-year-old breast cancer, Burks plans to send Grassley her household budget to show how little of it is allocated for booze, romance or other frivolities.
And she’s asking other Iowa contacts to do the same. She hopes thousands do, so Grassley will see “how the average person spends their money. How most have no money left over for ‘booze and women,’ let alone any investment/savings that he touts as virtuous and worthy of tax breaks.”
Burks, who used to be married to Chuck Johnson, who was CEO and later chairman of the board of Pioneer Hi-Bred International in the 1990s, said she wants to show Grassley how much she must rely on grants and financial assistance to help pay for her cancer treatments not covered by Medicare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield Medicare Advantage.
The Iowa Citizen Action Network along with the Main Street Alliance of Iowa and Americans for Democratic Action Iowa were hosting rallies outside Grassley’s Des Moines and Waterloo offices Tuesday to protest his statements. A press release said they would come “along with our empty booze bottles … to give citizens a chance to tell him what Iowans really need.”
A group calling itself Patriotic Millionaires sent out a press release saying, “This isn’t just a gaffe, this is Senator Grassley saying what he believes and giving us a window into the utter contempt the GOP holds for middle class Americans who don’t qualify for the estate tax.”
It cited an an Open Secrets report that said Grassley accepted nearly $175,000 in donations in the 2016 election cycle from industries such as “TV/Movies/Music” and “Beer, Wine and Liquor,” and asked if he would be giving it back.
In case Grassley forgot, Iowa’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which translates to $290 a week, or $15,000 a year. No one earning at that rate would have much of anything to leave to their heirs, let along more than $5.5 million no matter how frugal they are. Iowa’s Republican state lawmakers have seen to it that the minimum wage stays that low. And their predecessors made this a right-to-work state, meaning workers can be fired for any reason, including for trying to unionize for better compensation.
Not to mention the implicit sexism in his comments. Does he assume all eligible estate-tax payers are male? Or that romancing a woman requires giving her yachts and private planes?
Does Grassley even think about what he’s saying before spewing out silly justifications for indefensible Republican actions? Does he take us for fools to think we’d buy them — or just too perpetually drunk to notice?
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